Monday, April 7, 2008

Fast of the Firstborn


Firstborn children tradaitionally fast on the day before Passover, to show gratitude to Gd for sparing them when He killed the Egyptian firstborn. If the firstborn is a minor, then the father fasts. Some have the practice of having the mother fast in place of her under-age child, if the father is already a firstborn. In many places, firstborn daughters do not fast.

This fast is problematic, thought since we specifically don't fast during the month of Nisan, and since we avoid fasting on the day before any holiday, lest that reduce the enjoyment of the holiday that evening! (One possible justification is that this is a fast of gratitude rather than mourning.)

Therefore, the custom of fasting on the day before Passover has a counter-custom. Firstborns attend a meal celebrating a Mitzvah - a Brit Milah, or a Siyyum (a celebration at the conclusion of learning a Torah text) - and then they are exempt from the fast.

If one is absolutely unable to make it to a celebration which overrides the fast, but one knows that fasting through the day would make it impossible for him to properly eat the requisite amount of Matzah and drink four cups of wine that evening, then he should break the fast by eating small quantities of snack food through the day.

[Note: This year, when the day before Passover is Shabbat, we move the fast - and its associated Siyum - back to the preceding Thursday.]

(Code of Jewish Law Orach Chaim 470:1-2; Mishneh Berurah 470:2; 10)

Have a great day,

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